Burnished Polaroids

Look­ing south from the Wal­nut Street Bridge, Philadel­phia. This is a favorite site of mine to pho­to­graph because of the right­ward sweep of the riv­er, rail­road tracks and high­way. Fire hydrant, Walt Whit­man Cen­ter, Cam­den. I was wait­ing to ush­er for a Allen Gins­burg read­ing and combed the block look­ing for appropriately-phallic cel­e­bra­tion of the day. East side of the Wis­sahick­on Creek, Philadel­phia. A favorite place to walk and con­tem­plate life.

This is a style of pho­tog­ra­phy I got into a few years ago. It’s appeal is sim­ple: it takes lit­tle tech­ni­cal exper­tise and the process itself is lim­it­ed in time. Every­thing boils down to basic form: a suc­cess­ful pho­to depends on set­ting up a good shot and then bring­ing it’s poten­tial out in the bur­nish­ing.


Any­one who used Polaroids as a kid will remem­ber the wait. When the film comes out of the cam­era, it’s still black. With­in a few min­utes a ghost of the pho­to begins to appear, a image which is fleshed out in about ten min­utes time. Dur­ing this time, the pho­to is devel­op­ing inside of it’s plas­tic cas­ing. If you press hard on the plas­tic before the pho­to comes out, all sorts of effects can be achieved. Depend­ing on the pres­sure and tem­per­a­ture, you can get col­ors to bend, scratch­es to streak across the pho­to, etc. If done well, the bur­nish­ing can take on the effect of brush strokes and cre­ate an impres­sion­is­tis­tic pho­to­graph.

This is not a bur­nished Polaroid of course. I took this with more tra­di­tion­al pho­to­graph­ic equip­ment in the sum­mer of 1991. I was on British Columbia’s Gabri­o­la Island for the annu­al meet­ing of my employ­er, New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers, a meet­ing place which allowed for won­der­ful out­door dis­trac­tions. One was sea kyack­ing through the pass­es around the island.

What we didn’t know was that one par­tic­u­lar chan­nel served as the take-off strip for the island’s sea­planes. I was safe­ly onboard a boat at the end of the pass when I saw the plane start out of the docks you see in the dis­tance. Two work­mates were leisure­ly pad­dling their way toward us when they heard the sound behind them. As Bar­bara relates, she knew if that plane didn’t get air­borne in time she’d be goners. Luck­i­ly it made it and so did they…
 Last updat­ed Jan­u­ary 28, 1997

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